Songs Of Praise is the best Billy Jenkins album of this Millennium so far.
Martin Longley 2008
For his 50th birthday tour in 2006, the Reverend Jenkins gathered around him a flock that were comfortable with handling his older, twitchier jazz works, as well as the dirty blues songs that have prevailed over the last decade or more. The only survivor from Billy's Blues Collective is violinist Dylan Bates, a virtuoso who harnesses a great deal of friction-excitement, capable of traversing just about all the required styles, like Sugar Cane Harris one moment, then Leroy Jenkins the next.
This live blast from Leeds' Wardrobe is captured in full and is digitally pristine without losing its ragged edge. The remaining band line-up arrive from a zone that's more attuned to the old Voice Of God Collective, from an earlier Jenkins testament. Oren Marshall waddles in a New Orleans direction, his huffing tuba seducing old This Heat drummer Charles Hayward into an appropriate shuffling bounciness. Trombonist Gail Brand is normally found in a hardcore improvising environment, and Nathaniel Facey is nowadays famed as a member of the swiftly-risen Empirical. Both of these blowers deliver pungent solos, with the latter gaining higher ground with his testifying gospel blues outbursts. Jenkins happens to deliver even more than his usual quota of combustive guitar scribbles, with the opening signature tune "Brilliant" highlighting both himself and Facey in a searing duel to the death. Less parody, and more aggression than much of Billy's recent material? Well, there's still plenty of humour sheafed between the soloing pyrotechnics.
Jenkins still slips in a few ragged-voiced blues numbers, pushing them to the limit, as Marshall makes didjeridu drones, then it's a crazed stumble through "Dancing In Ornette Coleman's Head", as complexity reigns in a harmolodic hoe-down. Suddenly, ludicrously, they all make a manic strut through "Sunny": composed by Bobby Hebb, but popularised by Boney M, amongst many others. This latest Jenkins crew is an oddball dream combo, specially designed to appeal to other oddballs, and Songs Of Praise is the best Billy Jenkins album of this Millennium so far. It's as if Chris Barber had a funny turn...